"I'm not crazy," the main character, Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly), exclaims at one point in the new film Dark Water. Given that she is haunted by bad memories of her wicked mother, lives in an apartment with multiple leaks, and has a hard time distinguishing her own daughter from the ghost who lives upstairs, the temptation to judge her insane is pretty strong. She is saved from this judgment by the fact that the film and Connelly's role in particular are simply fatuous, in the vapid horror-film sense that every decision she makes seems designed for predictably bad results. With only one marginally creepy scene toward the end, this film is a real contender for worst film released this year.
Like Ring and Ring 2, Dark Water is a remake of a film by Hideo Nakata. The first Ring was superb; the sequel, mediocre; but Dark Water is in a category of bad film all to itself. Part of the problem is that we have been down this road before. The dominant plot theme is that of an abused little girl whose presence haunts the location of her mistreatment. The interesting suggestion here is that homes are not merely buildings in and out of which various families move, but that they bear the memories of their inhabitants. In Dark Water, all of this seems a tired and very wet cliché.
As her separation from her husband becomes official, Dahlia and her young daughter, Ceci (Ariel Gade in an impressive performance) are desperate to find affordable housing. Dahlia settles on an apartment building that manages to resemble a military installation, a warehouse, and one of those hideously constructed modern school buildings seemingly designed to produce high rates of suicide in students.
The apartment manager (John C. Reilly in a nice turn as a sleazy, if genial, salesman) relates the history of the building and notes that the builders aspired to construct a little village, a utopian community but some off their ideas were a little odd. He is the sort of landlord who thinks that a fresh coat of paint will take care of every problem: "That gaping hole in the ceiling with black goo oozing through it? No problem. We'll have the painter in here first thing tomorrow morning."
The leaks and strange sounds emanating from the apartment directly above them provoke Dahlia to investigate the allegedly abandoned apartment. The story she uncovers prompts flashbacks to her own childhood. In fact, the film opens with a flashback to Seattle in 1974, with a young girl waiting in a rainstorm for her mother to pick her up. The girl, we soon learn, is Dahlia who was abused by her own mother. There is more than a hint of a haunting repetition about the film. The now empty apartment was inhabited by a family with a young girl, rumored to have been abandoned by her own parents. Dahlia's daughter begins having revealing conversations with a not-so-imaginary friend, a practice that worries the teachers at her new school and gives the former husband more evidence to use against Dahlia in their custody battle.
But none of this much matters to viewers. The plot is so feeble and Connelly's character so thin that there is little for her to do here except wander through each scene looking dazed and confused. Her performance is, like the sleeping medication she takes, a real downer. She fails to register real emotion. Of course, this could be the fate of any of us were we to be showered by filthy water any time we went to bed, tried to use the sink, or take a shower. When she heads for the basement to do her laundry, well, we have a pretty good idea that the clothes are not going to come back with that fluffy freshness promised in detergent commercials.
If you're interested in American remakes of Japanese horror, rent one of the other remakes. If you're interested in a dramatic battle over real estate, rent the underappreciated House of Sand and Fog, in which Jennifer Connelly gives a terrific performance.
It's just too bad for Connelly and for moviegoers that Dark Water's floods were not severe or rapid enough to wipe out the entire production.